Since 2007’s fairly disappointing The Golden Compass, fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy have hoped against hope for an adaptation that does it justice. Now, with the first trailer for the upcoming HBO/BBC version, it looks as if they may get their wish.
Despite being children’s books involving talking polar bears, His Dark Materials was grappling with some incredibly weighty material, involving organised religion, the loss of innocence, mental illness, and, ultimately – like in the books’ obvious inspiration Paradise Lost – a war against God Himself. This, perhaps, is why the 2007 film version faltered the way it did, attempting to present it as more of a popcorn children’s action movie in the vein of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia (which, to be fair, was also heavy on the theology). This is also perhaps why HBO are developing the project: unlike most of their output, it isn’t unabashedly adult and graphic, but its complexity is better-suited for them than for a New Line Cinema high on the hog off the success of Lord of the Rings.
The one thing you couldn’t fault the 2007 version for was the cast, but this iteration appears to be no slouch in that department either, with Dafne Keen (Logan) as protagonist Lyra Belacqua and Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) as Marisa Coulter being particular standouts based on the trailer alone. The one off note is Lin-Manuel Miranda, he of the musical Hamilton, as aeronaut Lee Scoresby – it’s a shame to say, since by all accounts Miranda is a big fan of the books (asked whether he’d take a holiday after filming, he replied that the role was the holiday), but he’s simply too young and too non-Texan for it. Especially by comparison to modern cowboy Sam Elliott, who played the role immaculately in the film.
Nonetheless, this is a very promising preview of a much-anticipated book series – especially considering that the show’s already been renewed for a second series, so, unlike the film, it will likely adapt the whole trilogy.
If you were a fan of the books, or just want to know more, check out Nat Wassell’s fulsome praise of the trilogy here.